Valparaiso City Council members disagree on an item on Monday’s meeting agenda to provide additional legal representation in addition to Valparaiso City Attorney Patrick Lyp’s salary.
Lyp has served as Valparaiso’s full-time city attorney since January 2020 and served as Valparaiso’s economic director six years before that.
Council member Peter Anderson, R-5, recently posted on his elected official Facebook page his concerns about an appropriation listed among the items of business for the council to consider at Monday’s meeting at Valparaiso City Hall at 6 p.m.
“Of particular note is Item E, the $150,000 appropriation for Council for ‘professional services,’” Anderson said in his post.
“There is exactly zero explanation of what ‘professional services’ might include. I was told a solicitor specifically for the council. “This regulation lacks any transparency.”
Anderson’s post also includes a copy of the proposed regulation, described as “allocating funds from the CCIF Cigarette Tax Fund and providing for the publication of the notice.” The ordinance lists an amount of $150,000 for the use of “professional services-city council.” It also recommends holding a public hearing at the Feb. 26 council meeting.
An earlier Facebook post from Anderson on Jan. 30 listed Valparaiso City Council President Robert Cotton (D-2nd) as the person who drafted and recommended the ordinance.
“Councilman Cotton introduced this ordinance, which will be heard on first reading at the February 12th City Council Meeting,” Anderson explained.
“This ordinance is troubling to me. What is it? Councilman Cotton is trying to get funding for professional services. What exactly is this? After a phone call, he actually wants to hire an attorney for the city who will be at odds with the city attorney. Long story short, City Attorney Bob’s “Is (Cotton) making a proposal for the city he doesn’t like? Bob consults the ‘council’ attorney to get a different opinion.”
On Friday, Cotton described the idea of the council having additional legal guidance as an important “check and balance” and similar to the practice of “measure twice before you cut”.
“Every decision-making body in our agency allocates funds for professional services,” Cotton said. “The City Council is no different. We don’t know everything, and at times we may need expert input to make responsible decisions on behalf of our 35,000 Valparaiso residents.”
In a social media post, Anderson said the practice of a council hiring its own lawyer was “not unheard of” but added “in this case I believe it is completely unnecessary and a waste of money.”
“Democrats have a 5-2 advantage in the Council,” Anderson said in his post.
“They can literally transfer anything they want. You don’t need to spend $150,000 on legal fees. We already have a city attorney who is extremely skilled at his job. Can you think of a better way to spend $150,000? Of course I can. An additional police officer or school resource officer with full assistance.” “What do you think? I don’t think it would be in the interest of the citizens of the 5th District to spend this money. I strongly encourage you to attend both the February 12 and February 26 meetings and voice your opinion.”
Before moving forward with the ordinance, Cotton said he received assurances from Mayor Jon Costas and Lyp that the amount of funding requested was “entirely reasonable.”
“The amount of legal services shall not exceed $50,000.00. The $100,000 balance provides the resources necessary to seek expert input on issues that at least 4 in 7 of our council members agree are necessary,” Cotton said.
Philip Potempa is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.